Okay, Netflix, you’ve got me. I held out for three seasons but you’ve suckered me in. I don’t care whether Drive To Survive is meant to reflect the 2021 Formula 1 world championship—I only care that everything wrong with it is incredibly funny and it’s turning me into a horrible, extremely entertained person.
In previous seasons I haven’t really known what to make of Drive To Survive because I’ve been a Formula 1 fan for nearly 30 years and have worked in it for the last half-decade so a lot of the drama feels incredibly fake. Then last year happened, when things got so out of control Megan Thee Stallion ended up in a championship rivalry with Martin Brundle and the horrible, fever-pitch beefing had me desperate for the season to end, no matter the outcome. Arguably, a similar situation to race control.
From the wreckage of 2021, I don’t want an accurate retelling. I don’t want to relive any of the drama of last year—I sort of go into a weird fugue state when I even think about it. And I was worried season four of Drive To Survive was going to play off a championship that felt script-annotated for Netflix and essentially make me depressed for the next week, but I’m weirdly surprised to tell you that, instead, it’s made me cackle for days.
DTS isn’t accurate. It’s ridiculous. It’s annoying how ridiculous it is, but after what felt like a very serious, far too long season, I was ready for stupidity. It turns out the only way I can digest the genuinely distressing facts of the 2021 F1 world championship is as a completely deranged piece of fanfiction that’s both poorly written and so obviously cheapened with its own strange agendas it’s genuinely funny.
Max Verstappen, who you might remember as the current world champion, refused to participate in the season so the Netflix team made the decision to replace him with Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner. DTS takes roughly this attitude to everything. “Don’t have footage of something? Whatever, just use something else.”
I’ll be quick about the first few episodes as they’re probably the least crucial in the series. The first makes the bold choice to focus on team principals, while the second highlights what an evil little boy Lando Norris is for not somehow being able to drive Daniel Ricciardo’s car for him. The third, then, manages to straight-faced tell the story of the Monaco Grand Prix as though it was a drama-filled nailbiter, not a race that was mostly very, very funny due to Valtteri Bottas’ stuck nut.
The fourth episode is where it really hits its editorial stride. I have more reasons than most people to be furiously angry at Russia right now, with five of my friends recently dead in Ukraine, but I genuinely howled with laughter throughout the half-hour of incredible choices that somehow saw the producers not only attempting to redeem Nikita Mazepin but somehow finishing this arc in effing Sochi.
Mazepin appears in the series, as in a recent EU sanctions list, alongside his father Dmitry as a sort of comedy villain duo who are seen bullying Haas, complaining and otherwise being legitimately dislikable. I assume this was, somehow, the most flattering footage the team could find because nonetheless the episode is edited in a way that suggests you are supposed to feel sympathy for him and then celebrate the fact he finished “ahead” of his teammate, who retired, at the Russian Grand Prix.
From there, things just keep getting weirder. If you watched F1 last year then there’s plenty to recognize but in a strange, referential way that barely connects. By the time Daniel Ricciardo wins the Italian Grand Prix, it’s surprising Norris hasn’t been arrested for war crimes in the DTS universe and I was starting to watch for signals that the pundits weren’t being held at gunpoint. Probably the most on-the-nose insight is that every time Carlos Sainz Jr. or Charles Leclerc or especially both of them appear on screen everything takes a turn for the demonically horny, a Catholic-wracked but correct Ferrari take if there ever was one.
An episode on young drivers is an accidentally apt frame for it all: Yuki Tsunoda, a 2021 rookie, is paired up with Esteban Ocon, who has been driving in Formula 1 on and off since 2016 as though they have comparable careers. Tsunoda comes across as the genuinely great weirdo he is and it’s one of the most entertaining episodes, as well as quite heartwarming. But what Ocon has to do with it is shoehorned harder than a minibus in a pit box.
I know it’s making me worse. It’s rotting my brain and turning me into a terrible person, but I can’t stop watching it. It’s hilarious, it’s awful, and it’s made F1 seem more fun than I ever could.
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